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Weird espionage, November 16, 2015
Confessor Destine is an unimpeachable authority. His spotless personal record ensures that he can wield great power in society by exploiting other people's indiscretions, charging them with crimes, without ever having his own position questioned.
You play as someone who has a bone to pick with him. You have been preparing for years to break into the Confessor's mansion and dig up some dirt. You begin the game wearing a pellucid llama-suit that makes you invisible, and you will enter the mansion through a spatial intersection in a giant leather cliff that cuts into another physical plane.
I want to say that this game is surreal, but I don't think that's accurate. It's set in a fantasy world with very unusual qualities, but within this world everything is consistent and makes sense. There's no dream logic. There's just strange logic. The finesse required to achieve this subtle distinction in the writing is spectacular.
I don't want to say too much about the world, because the game's primary pleasure comes from exploring that world. I do think you will have to have a certain taste for peculiarity to enjoy the game though. It made me think about Edward Gorey. Consider this organization system in the Confessor's library:
You could choose a specific book or one of the seven eternal categories: damp, forgotten, implausible, pejorative, exhaustive, unsettling and beseeching.
If you look at the "forgotten" books, some titles you'll find are Urn Dwellers, Emponderations Most Wearysome, and History of The Boundless Plains. In the "damp" category there is a book about milking called Milking.
This library is probably the game's greatest achievement. It has 101 books, and you can read them all, and they are all different and wonderful and enrich the world. At the same time, the library also illustrates the game's biggest weakness, which is that it demands an exhaustive attention to detail from the player to solve its puzzles.
Sub Rosa rewards patience and critical thought, and it does not respond well to being rushed through. Some players will be frustrated by its difficulty, and the puzzles could certainly be clued more overtly, but this is exactly what will draw other players to the game who want a challenge. Even though I personally needed hints, that didn't detract at all from my satisfaction with the game's other elements.